Thomas Müller - small town roots that grew a star
In the rolling foothills of the Bavarian Alps, where cows lazily chew grass in sun-drenched meadows, Germany and Bayern Munich star Thomas Müller is the pride of his former club, TSV Paehl.
“Did you know that the nicest, most popular and probably Germany’s best current footballer — Thomas Müller — learned to play football in the youth teams of TSV Paehl until he was 10?” the club proudly boasts on its website as it invites youthful recruits.
Many young Bavarians would love to follow Müller’s path and lift the Champions League and World Cup trophies for club and country.
Paehl, 50km south of Munich, is where Müller (26) grew up and played football before joining Bayern’s academy, just before his 11th birthday.
Pähl, the small Bavarian hamlet that Mueller grew up in
He won the 2013 treble of Champions League, German league and cup titles with Bayern, and then the 2014 World Cup with Die Mannschaft (the German national football team), and has made more than 70 appearances for Germany since his 2010 debut.
He scored 20 goals in 31 league games for Bayern last season and is the all-time leading German goal-scorer in Europe, with 36 Champions League goals over nine seasons. Müller’s parents and relatives still live in Paehl.
His younger brother Simon is an attacking midfielder for TSV’s first team in the Bavarian regional league and has a backroom job at FC Bayern.
Müller lives near Paehl, but often returns home to play cards with friends and watch his brother play. “He’s the same person he always was, very grounded. He doesn’t act like a star at all,” said Wolfgang Czerwenka, his former coach at TSV Paehl.
“We’re all very proud of him and he hasn’t forgotten us.
Through his connections, new balls or sets of playing shirts often find their way here.”
When TSV struggled to replace the clubhouse roof, Müller donated €20 000 so the work could go ahead. A group from TSV Paehl regularly travels to Bayern’s games — home and away — to watch Müller play.
“You could see in the first few years that he had talent,” Alfred Greiner, who runs TSV’s football section, said. “He worked hard, could do things the other children couldn’t and never seemed to get injured.”
Even today, Müller is rarely injured. He last missed a few games with a torn leg muscle in the 2013-2014 season and picked up only a few knocks last season.
Whether his robustness is down to the Bavarian air is debatable. But Müller would look just as comfortable bantering with locals and serving frothy mugs in Paehl’s beer garden as he does scoring goals for Bayern and Germany.
“He’s just as polite now as he was as a boy; he’s always on the go with FC Bayern, but when he comes to visit, he often stops for a chat,” added Greiner.
“People sometimes mistake his lack of attention on them for arrogance, but he simply can’t talk to everyone who wants to speak to him.”
Czerwenka was Müller’s coach at TSV in the 1999-2000 season before he joined Bayern’s academy. “Word had got around in the local clubs that we had an exceptional footballer,” remembered Czerwenka. “He was technically very strong and incredibly fast.
“The team scored something like 160 goals that season. Although he was tightly marked, Thomas created space for others to score and still ended up scoring more than 100 goals himself.
“One time, we were playing away to the international school at Starnberg [the neighbouring town]. They were second to us in the league and the match would decide the title.
“We took Thomas, even though he was a year younger than the other boys, and he was on the bench for the first half. It was 1-0 at the break, but Thomas played the second half, scored four goals and set up the other one. We won 5-1,” added Czerwenka with a smile.
Müller was the pride of Paehl when he made his breakthrough at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, finishing as top scorer with five goals and best young player just before his 21st birthday.
TSV Paehl will again be following their local hero at Euro 2016. “When there’s a big game on in midweek, the first team organise their training for another day so they can watch on the clubhouse’s TV,” said Czerwenka.
“You can be sure the place will be full for Germany’s games in France this summer.” — AFP